By Anne DesBrisay
Chef Bien of Chez Bien used to cook in Italian restaurants on Preston Street. My first visit was lunch, but if you come back for dinner (recommended) you should give his Asian marinated lamb (lemongrass, ginger, garlic, star anise) served with Italian style roast potatoes (rosemary, garlic, olive oil) a try. Pretty successful fusion fare!
But on the first summer-like days of the year thoughts naturally turn to summer rolls. Goi Cuon, also called salad rolls, of softened rice paper circles wrapped around grilled meat, greens, vegetables, noodles and fresh herbs. Lots of Vietnamese restaurants make these, and make them ahead. At Chez Bien, they’re made to order and that makes all the difference.
The grilled pork is warm and fragrant, the vermicelli at room temperature, the vegetables fresh and crunchy in their sweet and sour marinade, while the chopped mint lends a burst of summery vigour to the package.
You have a choice at Chez Bien of a peanut sauce to dunk the rolls into, or the ubiquitous nuoc cham, the Vietnamese dipping sauce used for all kinds of things. I chose the former, where the crushed peanuts are mixed with a dollop of green mung bean paste. Très bien!
Two rolls per order, and quite filling, but if you’d like to start with soup, I recommend the canh chua ga, a shrimp soup, sweet and tart and slightly spicy, with tomatoes, bean sprouts, scallions and celery, the broth aromatic of tamarind and lemongrass, the whole gently reviving. Much like these summer days of spring!
Cost: $3.95 for two rolls; $3.95 more for a small soup.
Hours: Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch; Tuesday to Sunday for dinner.
Chez Bien, 277A boul. St-Joseph, Gatineau, 819-775-9558.